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24 Vocabulary of emotions and its development in English, German and other languages

From the book Volume 1
Cliff Goddard


This chapter is about the meanings of emotion words in everyday language. It employs a well-established approach to semantic description, the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) approach, which depicts meanings using paraphrases composed of simple, cross-translatable words. Numerous NSM studies have investigated emotion vocabulary in diverse languages. In broad agreement with many emotion theorists, the picture emerging from this research is that emotion words depict blends of feelings and thoughts, sometimes accompanied by potential bodily reactions. Using examples from English and German, the chapter summarises findings about the semantics of emotion words of various kinds, including adjectives (e.g., afraid, angry, ashamed), verbs (e.g., miss, worry), and abstract nouns (e.g., happiness, depression). Considerable weight is placed on linguistic evidence such as usage patterns, collocational data, and phraseology. It is shown that the NSM methodology makes it possible to differentiate between similar-but-different emotion concepts in a single language, e.g., English happy, pleased, satisfied, between comparable words in different languages, e.g., German Ekel versus English disgust, and, where historical records are available, to trace how emotion words may change their meanings over time.

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